While big international productions such as Star Wars and Star Trek Beyond are met with much fanfare when their cast and crew roll up in the UAE, smaller foreign productions – which could be said to provide the UAE’s film industry with a more consistent boost – often fall off the radar. Yet some of these productions are also helping showcase the UAE’s standout locations, while also providing a healthy dose of work to local production facilities companies.
One such production was ‘Dubai My Love’ a film best described as a romantic mystery, which filmed for 10 days in Dubai earlier this year. The film, which is being produced for the Malaysian market by Malaysian production company, Tsar Asia Sdn Bhd, filmed in various locations around Dubai and received significant assistance from Dubai Tourism.
Producer Wan Sariah Binti Wan Jaafar, who established Tsar Asia around 2011, said the film came about after the director, Aidilfitri Bin Mohamed Yunos, suggested working on a romantic film. The producer and director then had a roundtable discussion about the potential project, mapping out a brief outline for a film to be set in Dubai.
The reasons behind setting the film in Dubai were simple – the emirate generates significant interest in Malaysia and also provided a plausible setting for the story, which focuses on a young man who leaves Malaysia for Dubai after his fiancé fails to show up at their wedding and disappears without any explanation.
“There’s quite a lot of Malaysians coming over to Dubai and doing business and there is a lot of interest because Malaysia has a good relationship with the Middle East, so what we wanted to do was find a location where a lot of Malaysians would be interested to come over as well,” says Wan Jaafar.
Wan Jaafar was in Dubai as part of a relatively small team consisting of 10 cast and crew. When Digital Studio met with the team, production was taking place at Dubai Marina. This followed shoots at locations including the observation deck of Burj Khalifa, the Atlantis and the Gold Souk. During the 10-day shoot, production also took place in the desert.
The production received assistance from Dubai Tourism which helped in various ways including finding locations for the film and securing filming permits for these locations. Tsar Asia also worked with a local production company called Navigation Films. About 70-80% of the movie was due to be shot in Dubai and the rest in Malaysia, according to Wan Jaafar.
Tsar Asia brought about 10 cast and crew to Dubai to work on the shoot, including the cast: Mohamed Erwin Shah Evan Dawson, Nurali Bin Nadzwan, Hanna Aqeela Binti Mohd Rosni and Tengku Putri Najuwa Binti Tengku Yusof.
“We are keeping it a very small crew. We wanted to make it really tight. I’ve got my four actors and four technical crew. It’s more about getting things to go smoothly. The shoot would be harder to control with a bigger crew. Especially with love stories - keep it compact and it’s easier to control,” Wan Jaafar says.
Tsar Asia was in discussions with Dubai Tourism for about a year prior to the shoot, and the potential benefits for Dubai are clear given the potential for the film to help promote Dubai in Malaysia.
“In Malaysia a lot of people love the romance genre. We see that a lot of romance films do well especially if they’re set oversees as well,” Wan Jaafar says. “That’s why we’re shooting this in Dubai, because there’s never been an actual romance film from Malaysia shot in Dubai. I’m sure there’s been travel shows and reality TV shows set in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, but there has never been an actual film done in Dubai. Dubai is one of those places Malaysians are interested to go to and they’ve heard a lot of about it so we think it will help in box office.”
The film’s director, Aidilfitri Bin Mohamed Yunos, was in good spirits when he spoke to Digital Studio during his first ever shoot in Dubai. “I love Dubai. This is my first time here and it’s been a fascinating,” he said. He added that one of the highlights of filming in the emirate had been a shoot on the observation deck of Burj Khalifa.
In terms of technology, Yunos said that the crew was using two main cameras, including a Canon C100, to shoot the film in 2K. The crew was also using a DJI Osmo as a third camera for action scenes.
When casting, Tsar Asia chose up and coming actors rather than well-established stars who would add too much to the production costs. This was a lesson that the production company learned with its first feature, a horror film that was entirely filmed in Malaysia. “We did some research background over the past two years as to how the film industry is in Malaysia and we noticed it doesn’t matter too much whether the actors we have are very well known. Sometimes a producer might choose a really famous actress but then the returns after ticket collection aren’t that great, and that is basically the trend over the past three years,” Wan Jaafar says. “So we decided to take a different approach for this film by getting actresses that are up and coming. We’re confident that later on, when this movie comes out, their names will be much bigger. That’s why we decided to get these four very talented up-and-coming actors to act in this particular love story.”
However, aside from setting the film in an attractive location, Tsar Asia also has some other plans to help market the film before it hits the big screen in Malaysia. With production due to be completed around April, Wan Jaafar says that Tsar Asia plans to organise an original soundtrack for the movie. “Before the movie comes out we will release two original soundtracks so people are aware of the song, and if they like the song they will want to watch the movie. We will put in some visuals of Dubai and behind the scenes of Dubai and that is also how we will do the video clip for the film.”
While Dubai Tourism arranged all of the necessary permits centrally, Wan Jaafar admits there were still a few challenges filming in the emirate. These included the amount of interest that passers-by showed in the production. “When we shot at the Gold Souq there was a lot of curiosity. We were trying to shoot so we went in to every shop saying ‘please don’t look into the camera’. That has been one of the biggest challenges, just getting the public to go on with their lives. In Malaysia it’s very different. We’re so used to having dramas and shoots and people will just act like normal.”
Wan Jaafar says she expects to complete the Malaysian scenes in April and top complete postproduction by the end of the year for submission to the film board. For postproduction, which will be handled in Kuala Lumpar, the team will use Final Cut Pro for editing and Baselight for colour grading, according to director Yunos.
The plan is for the film to reach cinemas around March 2017.
Wan Jaafar - CV
Wan Sariah Binti Wan Jaafar had a varied career before moving into film production. She started work as a production assistant for TV and radio when she was 21 and then became a radio DJ for about four years.
But the world of production drew her back, and she went to work for a network called MITV. From here Wan Jaafar moved to MT7 channel, which is owned by Media Prima Primeworks Studios, Media Prima Berhad. Here Wan Jaafar hosted and conceptualised talk-shows in the English language and spearheaded projects such as documentary or magazine-style programmes.
After a four-year stint as a newsreader for Radio Television Malaysia, Wan Jaafar decided to set up her own production company, Tsar Asia Sdn Bhd, in 2011. As managing director of Tsar Asia, Wan Jaafar has worked on various projects, from a TV series about paranormal phenomena (called Strange Encounters) to commercial work and feature films.
Tsar Asia’s first feature film, a horror flick called ‘I Thirst for Your Blood’ is due to be released soon. The film has an old- fashioned “drag me to hell” approach to horror, according to Jaafar, who adds that she is not a fan of type of light comedy horrors that have been popular in recent years.
Wan Jaafar admits that she would like to consider doing more work in Dubai, espcially if her company could collaborate or co-produce with local Dubai or UAE-based companies.